Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”
Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” John 11:38-44
Most of us are familiar with this account of the miracle-working, life-giving power of Jesus when He raised Lazarus from the dead. There are a few interesting nuggets of truth buried in the details of this story. Jesus had deliberately waited two days after receiving the message of his friend’s illness before setting out on the journey to Bethany (see verse 5). When He finally arrived, Lazarus had already died. Prior to heading to the tomb, both Mary and Martha, sisters of the dead man, remarked that their brother would not have died, had Jesus been there (see John 11:21, 32). They understood that Jesus had the power to heal Lazarus and were disappointed that He had not come to them sooner. However, expectation was still high, as Martha expressed her confidence that whatever Jesus asked of God, God would do (verse 22). Others who followed the bereaved sisters to the tomb also reasoned, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” (verse 37).
However, in the midst of the expectation and heightened hopes of Lazarus’ family and friends, faith faltered when Jesus asked that they roll the stone away from the mouth of the tomb. Martha, who had been confident God would give Jesus whatever He asked, now warns: “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days” (verse 39). Her confidence that Jesus could do something began to waver when faced with the reality of death’s effects on her brother’s lifeless body.
Often, I implore God to intervene in a situation. I even imagine various ways He most likely could or would choose to redeem that situation. However, it seems He always comes up with something I never could have invented myself — a plan so unusual, that, when confronted with it, I begin to protest. When God (finally!) begins to direct a solution to the problem, I am capable of thinking of all sorts of reasons not to do it God’s way. If I am honest with myself, I am afraid of the stench of my own humanity. Sin brings death, and death brings a stench — the stench of rotting flesh. This is no surprise to God, as He sent Jesus to die for me when I was a sinner unaware of my need for redemption. He knew I would die in my sin and that the stench would be great — and He chose to face sin and death on my behalf and face the stench fearlessly. In fact, the Bible says that Jesus literally BECAME sin for me (2 Corinthians 5:21); since the Father cannot tolerate sin, Jesus was separated from the Father on our behalf as He hung on the cross. Our sin was crucified with Him there. He paid for every sin for all time. Jesus was NOT afraid of the stench. He KNEW God would give Him power to vanquish sin and death, and the stench along with it.
As we receive His life, we should remember that we are NOT odious to our Savior — SIN is repulsive to Him, but we are not. He has set His love on us. Similarly, we should not shrink back in the face of the sins of others God is rescuing. They may reek in their lost condition, but God loves them anyway, just as He loves us. Let us trust Him enough to use us to truly love others with His love and power and thereby rescue many who are longing to be resuscitated. Don’t be afraid of the smell of death!